There is a misconception among some people that drawing as much as possible, until inspiration strikes, is the best way to improve your drawing technique.

While drawing as often as you can will help you progress as an artist, it is important that you also take steps to learn how to draw well.

Drawing instructors help develop hand-eye coordination by ensuring that certain things become second nature to their students. However, taking drawing lessons every day could prove quite costly and may not be something you can afford to do. You may also not feel comfortable with a drawing instructor standing over you while you work.

You may wonder how you could improve your technique outside of your drawing lessons?

These tips may help you become the next William Kentridge.

Improve Your Drawing Technique by Honing Your Visual Memory

paper and illustrations
Experiment with different drawing techniques. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Drawing regularly often helps you to identify and learn from you mistakes, but visualization is vital to the drawing process.

Before the advent of photography, art was used to capture moments for longevity. If you admired a view and wished to carry a picture of it home with you, you’d whip out your brush and canvas to reproduce what you were looking at.

Although we now carry a cellphone and use it as a visual diary, there are instances where cameras cannot be used, such as in court, where artists sketch with chalk and water colours to keep a visual account of proceedings in a closed courtroom.

If your goal is to draw well, you need to become an excellent observer and train your eye to analyse your surroundings.

Below are a few simple solutions to help you practise.

Copy, Copy, Copy (And Then Copy Some More)

Collect easy sketches to draw, photos and pictures of paintings, then study their composition and finer details and try to replicate them.

Copying may possibly also provide inspiration for your future artwork.

Sketch What You See

Try to capture everyday situations on your canvas.

The process of turning a three dimensional live image into a two dimensional drawing involves using your right brain to visualise the small parts that make up the bigger picture and then combining those parts to produce a realistic sketch.

The tools that will help you achieve this are perspective, light and shadow.

Before drawing a live model you may wish to start by practising your figure drawing by using an artist mannequin. Once you feel confident sketching the human form, you can then move on to gesture drawing, to reproduce the various poses or actions of a subject.

photos and drawing
Recreate your favourite images on your sketch pad. ⎢Source: Unsplash

When you are sketching from life, it is important to memorise the main features of the scene in order to capture its essence, as it is fluid and will not look the same after a few minutes. You can then improvise and make additions as needed

Focus on Improving Your Patience and Concentration

Even if you have natural artistic flair, you will need to develop your technique.

Learning the basics of sketching, using light and shadow and how to properly use your tools, is something that cannot be perfected just by watching a ten minute YouTube video.

It takes time and patience to practise, make mistakes and learn.

  • If you find that you are lacking focus and are struggling to concentrate on your drawing, try scheduling several short sessions, instead of one long one. As your drawing progresses, you may feel that your focus returns and you can then start lengthening your sessions.
  • Try to set an objective for every session. Instead of rushing through and trying to complete an entire drawing in one sessions, do it in stages. Achieving your objectives will help to keep you motivated and assists in helping you improve your concentration.
  • Try to remove distractions (turn off your cellphone!) so you can focus on achieving the objective you’ve set for the session.
  • Consider drawing the same picture several times, using different drawing material (pencil, chalk, pastel, pen and ink …) and different techniques.

Draw as Often as Possible

Try to squeeze time to draw in whenever you’re able – while waiting at a Doctor’s surgery, on a train ride or even during your lunchbreak at work. Carry a sketchbook with you and fill it with drawings as you walk through a park.

person holding sketch book at the beach
Inspiration is all around you. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Your technique may not improve immediately but drawing often and making mistakes gives you the opportunity to learn. Another benefit of practising often is that it helps you to understand and trust your drawing materials, making it easier to choose just the right pencil for a drawing.

Great artists are not made overnight – you will not draw perfectly immediately. Practise, view your art objectively and start over as any times as it takes to achieve the final result you are aspiring to.

Keep Your Art Current

As an artist, your worst enemy is stagnation.

Do not dismiss any drawing techniques – they are all worth learning.

For example, while Fauvism can teach you about colour, you can learn about brush strokes and the use of highlights from realistic painting techniques.

While you may prefer a certain drawing material or particular technique, try switching them up from time to time. Over time you will learn new ways to blend your materials and different ways of using the paper’s grain.

  • You can strengthen your understanding by exploring different drawing techniques.
  • Use brushes over pencil to give work a lively feel.
  • The cross-hatching techniques of pen and ink may produce interesting results when drawing with acrylics.
  • Monochrome pencils (chalk, graphite, charcoal) are good materials to use when practicing light and shade. Monochrome media will teach you a lot about this technique.

You may find that getting access to new materials can be challenging.

Consider approaching your peers in your drawing classes and pooling your resources to create a materials exchange. Set up an exchange session where everyone brings their own drawing materials and shares it with the group.

You can then try out a variety of different materials such as coloured pencils, copic markers, tempera, gouache, graphite or pastels. You may even consider combining several of them to create a mixed media artwork.

Visit Art Galleries and Museums

Visit galleries in your province, like the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), the South African National Gallery, the Johannesburg Gallery or the Kwazulu Natal Society of the Arts, to take advantage of learning from established artists and finding inspiration.

Many wonderful artworks are displayed in galleries and museums and give you fantastic overview window on art.

woman in art gallery
Visit museums and art galleries to help develop your critical eye. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Museums in South Africa usually charge entry fees, but it is worth researching whether these fees are reduced or waived at certain times. For instance, the Zeitz MOCAA grants free entry to African citizens between 10am and 1pm on Wednesdays. If the chosen museum is difficult to reach via public transport, consider sharing an Uber with a group of your drawing lesson peers.

When viewing art in a museum, whether with a guided tour or on your own, stop and study a piece of art to look at its finer details. Study how light and shade was used, the composition of the piece, how negative space was treated, as well as the strokes, highlights and use of layering. Viewing artwork helps with the development of a critical eye.

Various styles emerged over the course of history and you will see the different artistic periods as you wander through a museum. Through the years artists gave their own personal twist to inspiration taken from their masters.

This gave rise to artistic currents such as:

  • Romanticism
  • Impressionism
  • Cubism
  • Fauvism.

Due to the many completely different styles available, you are sure to find one that resonates with you. When in need of inspiration, a wander through a gallery will often have a good outcome.

Cultural activities help you become aware of what has preceded you and are an important part of the creative process, helping you to broaden your horizons.

Exhibit Your Artwork

Critical evaluation is an important part of making progress.

Start by showing your drawings to friends and family and gauge their reactions to your work. They will generally provide their honest opinions and let you know if a certain aspect, such as a disproportionate figure, is not working well.

sketchbook and laptop
Share your drawings with people whose opinions you trust. ⎢Source: Unsplash

This helps you identify areas to pay closer attention to when working on your next drawing.

Your drawing can quickly improve by taking constructive criticism onboard. However, you also need to learn to filter out the negative criticism that does not add any value to your process, such as someone who wishes they could draw as well as you, telling you everything that they would have done differently.

Positive critique helps you identify what you do well and what you should continue doing.

You may consider organising your own exhibition or setting up critique sessions with your drawing lesson peers, who will have a more trained eye than someone who doesn’t draw.

Superprof has several private tutors to give you drawing lessons throughout South Africa, some of whom you can find by following the links below:

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Kim is from Cape Town, South Africa. She enjoys reading and spending summer days on the beautiful blue flag beaches that the Western Cape is blessed with. She is currently working on getting her groove back.